[This story contains spoilers for Happy Death Day 2U]
Happy Death Day 2U is on the way to becoming an improbable franchise. What felt like it could be a one-off film in 2017 has launched a sequel, which itself points squarely to a third, even wackier installment. Where could Happy Death Day 3 go? First, a recap.
In Happy Death Day, Tree (Jessica Rothe), a university student, sorority sister and inveterate mean girl, dies on her birthday due to a case of knife-to-the-face, wielded by a sicko wearing a baby mask (because for some creepy reason, the school mascot is a baby), then wakes up at the start of the same day, forced to relive it until she figures out who’s behind the mask. Tree bites the dust on repeat, and each time the loop refreshes, she becomes a better person, bit by bit. Meanwhile, in Happy Death Day 2U, out this week, Tree gets sucked back into that time loop thanks to sci-fi shenanigans perpetrated by Ryan (Phi Vu), science geek, whose thesis project is, for simplicity’s sake, a quantum mechanics device. (It’s far more complex than that, but the details are just details.)
What’s the old saying? If at first you don’t succeed, die, die again? Happy Death Day 2U moves away from the slasher element and puts agency over Tree’s mortal coil in her own hands; she has to help Ryan find the correct algorithm to make his machine function, which means trying algorithms blind to see if they work. When they don’t, she resets the cycle by swan diving from clock towers, drinking drain cleaner, frying herself with a hair dryer in the bathtub, and so on, each shown in a delightful screwball montage of carnage. Unmasking the new Babyface killer is low on the film’s priorities, though that does happen; it’s Gregory Butler (Charles Aitken), the sexy college professor made sexier because he’s unavailable. And his wife Stephanie Butler (Laura Clifton) is on the plot, too!
Turns out the timeline has shifted in Happy Death Day 2U; in this universe, Tree never two-times Mrs. Butler with Mr. Butler, and instead Lori (Ruby Modine), Tree’s roommate and her would-be Grim Reaper in Happy Death Day, is the one earning extra credit. But it doesn’t matter! Happy Death Day 2U, likely to the disappointment of many a horror fan, cares little and less about the Butlers and their designs on Lori’s life. It’s way more interested in the mechanics of cross-dimensional shenanigans and pocket universes and science fiction gobbledygook, which may or may not have basis in reality but makes for a good, fun time at the theater — especially when the film gets to its post-credit tag.
Where director Christopher Landon and Happy Death Day screenwriter Scott Lobdell left that film off on a “that’s all, folks!” note, Happy Death Day 2U, written by Landon himself, follows another tack and heads backwards. See, Ryan, thanks to Tree’s Herculean efforts at memorizing bad algorithms and dying a whole bunch, performs a successful run with his machine and puts everything back to normal, including Tree’s relationship with her adorable boyfriend, Carter (Israel Broussard). In the pocket universe where Tree spends most of the film, Carter’s dating her frenemy, Danielle (Rachel Matthews); in the normal universe, Danielle’s heinous, and in dire need of comeuppance.
A golden opportunity for that comeuppance presents itself in the stinger, when Men in Black types working for DARPA storm onto campus, seize the machine and take Ryan, Carter, Tree, and Ryan’s two science buddies, Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin), to their top secret DARPA military science lab. They want Ryan’s help testing out the machine! They just need a test subject. Cut to Danielle waking up screaming in her bed, now apparently caught in her very own time loop.
There’s a Tales From the Crypt effect to this ending, where the love-to-hate character gets their just due via poetic justice. But the implications of the climax go beyond a punchline, even if the punchline’s pretty spicy. The audience knows that Tree’s Groundhog Day in hell is the product of science gone wrong. But if the events of Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2U are driven by accidental mad science, what about the events of a Happy Death Day 3, where the characters know how to use the device and have chosen Danielle as the guinea pig in their experiment? Who gets to kill Danielle? Will Tree be the one in the Babyface mask? What kind of government would fund a project like that in the first place? (Don’t answer that question. We all know.) And no matter how mean Danielle is, isn’t this a much worse punishment than she deserves?
Landon actually wrote Happy Death Day 2U before Happy Death Day; he also has an idea in mind for a third film, assuming response to Happy Death Day 2U demands a third film. Landon’s idea, of course, could be anything: A return to the original’s horror roots, perhaps, the sci-fi details kept intact but couched in the tried-and-true slasher formula, or maybe the horror will be couched in yet more screwball comedy, where Rothe shines.
“The third movie I know is going to be a little different. It’s going to be really bonkers and really fun,” he recently told The Hollywood Reporter.
Whatever direction Landon takes the Happy Death Day series in, she’s its consistent through line. Go nuts blending genres. Have a gas confronting the ethics of knowingly trapping a person, even an awful person, in a time loop. But just make sure Rothe’s there to carry the story.